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When selecting an online system to receive manuscript submissions and manage peer review most academic journals focus on the experience and needs of their editorial team - but what about authors and reviewers?

Your peer review system can either positively or negatively impact how authors and reviewers think about your journal. The last thing you want to do is make an author or reviewer slog their way through a confusing peer review system only to decide they don’t want to work with your journal again! That’s why it’s imperative for journals to assess their current or prospective journal management system from the eyes of all users. In order to attract new authors and reviewers and keep them coming back, in addition to upholding high publication quality, academic journals must ensure that they’re giving authors and reviewers a streamlined peer review experience.

Whether your journal is looking for a new peer review platform or you already have a system and aren’t sure what authors and reviewers think about it, here are 3 reasons your journal team should assess your peer review system by stepping into the proverbial “shoes” of authors and reviewers. If you’ve been using the same system for a while, you may also want to do a quick author and reviewer experience survey to get direct feedback.

A cohesive platform is a must for a cohesive peer review experience

The efficiency of a journal’s peer review process is dependent on the tools used to manage it. And, as a general rule, the fewer tools journal teams need for peer review the better. With the right designated journal management software editorial teams should be able to get all of the tools they need to manage peer review - from accepting submissions, to inviting reviewers, and coordinating reviewer and author communication - all in one place. A mistake that many journal teams make is trying to patch together different software like email, DropBox, and Google spreadsheets to create a submission system. For the editors, this generally becomes an ongoing headache, but often teams get so used to a process that they resign themselves to its flaws and limitations. The problem is, if your peer review process feels scattered for your editorial team it’s likely the same or worse for reviewers and authors who aren’t used to your process and are more likely to get frustrated by it.

When peer review is scattered between different tools it tends to create more work for authors and reviewers. No reviewer likes having to log into DropBox to view a manuscript then go somewhere else to submit their referee report, and no author likes having to create a folder in their email inbox to keep all communication from your journal organized. These are extra steps that make working with your journal less convenient, which can also cause your publication to appear less professional. Additionally, having a scattered peer review process can lead to authors and reviewers feeling somewhat insecure about working with your journal. Authors like getting status updates on where their manuscript is in peer review and reviewers like getting reminders for tasks they need to complete. Journals managing their submissions more manually across multiple platforms can often get behind on sending such notifications leading to authors and reviewers either waiting in uncertainty to know how things are going, or feeling like they have to keep following up with the editors.

For the sake of everyone involved in peer review at your journal, you should seek a journal management platform that has all the tools you need in a central location. Chief among them is the ability to easily automate recurring tasks and reminders so you aren’t leaving authors and reviewers feeling unsure of what they should be doing, leading to more inquiry emails for your editors to manage. This is not an ideal situation!

Authors and reviewers are infrequent visitors to your journal - they can’t “learn” your system

A guiding principle you should follow when determining how your journal will manage peer review is that authors and reviewers will not have the time to learn the intricacies of a complex system. One more time - authors and reviewers do not have the time to learn how to use complex systems. Therefore, you should seek to manage peer review via an intuitive platform that authors and reviewers can easily access and work within.

Some factors that can make for an unpleasant peer review experience for authors and reviewers that you’ll want to look out for in your current or prospective journal management system are:

  1. Clunky software design (the kind that feels like you’re using an online database circa 2005): If your peer review system looks and functions like a bad data entry website that’s a problem. Your team may be used to clicking through multiple pages to complete an action or scanning a lengthy sidebar to find the link they need but authors and reviewers aren’t. You don’t want a sloppy system to detract people from working with your publication. The best way to see how authors and reviewers will feel about a journal management platform is to test it out from their perspective. If you can’t figure out the steps you need to take to complete a common author or reviewer action within a few minutes then you can be sure authors and reviewers won’t be able to either.

  2. Lack of status updates: As mentioned earlier, authors and reviewers like getting notification emails. Authors want status updates on their manuscript and reviewers want to know if they’re on task. Automated status updates both within your journal management platform and sent via email are necessary to give authors and editors a good peer review experience.

  3. Difficulty keeping communication straight: No one likes having to hunt for emails in their inbox or wondering if an email they sent your journal was actually received. Yet this is often the case when journals either make authors and reviewers submit communication to them via an online form or via email. One of the most important features to seek in a journal management platform is the ability to send and store communications all on that site. On Scholastica this can be done via Discussions, which anyone - editor, author, or reviewer - can initiate and which are then stored next to the manuscript they’re about.

  4. File version confusion: In peer review there’s bound to be multiple file versions of manuscripts and it’s imperative that your peer review system makes managing file versions easy. You don’t want to put authors and reviewers in the position of having to consciously keep file versions straight. Your peer review system should be able to automate this.

Busy authors and reviewers need fast user support

Another aspect of your journal management platform that you’ll need to consider is how easily authors and reviewers will be able to get support for any technical questions that they have. Every author or reviewer’s worst nightmare is sitting at their computer trying to submit a revised manuscript or referee report on deadline only to encounter some kind of technical trouble. In this case - what options do authors and reviewers working with your journal have? It’s important to think about this and to make sure your peer review system comes with adequate support so confused authors and editors don’t have to resort to emailing your editorial team and hoping for a response in time. Rather, make sure your peer review software has ample help documentation that’s easily available to users as well as a customer support contact, so that your editorial team isn’t spread too thin between managing peer review and fielding any technical questions or requests.

As you consider what will be the best journal management system for not only your editorial team but also authors and reviewers, check out Scholastica’s guide The Modern Journal: Technology and Peer Review Management, which walks through journal management software benefits and common pitfalls. If you’re interested in learning more about Scholastica’s journal management software, we’d love to show you around! Click here to request a demo.

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